Kateryna and her husband Oleg endure what every citizen of Kyiv must – long blackouts, hours without any internet connection and constant apprehension about the next missile barrage.
But as they begin 2023, they are also preparing for the arrival of twin boys. Kateryna, who is 34, is eight months pregnant. CNN agreed to use only first names for her and Oleg as they fear for their privacy.
She’s not getting much rest ahead of the big day. The air-raid sirens blare almost every day, the crump of explosions is all too familiar. Their lives are shaped by the scheduled power cuts, as electricity is shared among the regions to mitigate the impact of Russia’s strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
“On New Year’s Eve, I tried to take a nap,” she told CNN from her house in the Kyiv suburbs. “But I woke up to the sound of explosions, and they went on through the night. The sirens were on for much of the night, until 4:30 am,” she said.
It’s difficult for residents to distinguish between the sound of air defenses in operation and the impact of Russian cruise missiles and drones.
“I don’t mind the blackouts,” Kateryna said, “but we worry about the next wave of Russian missiles. Will it be us? It’s like a constant gamble.”
A nearby district – Vyshhorod – was hit a month ago, and the indiscriminate nature of the strikes means that residential districts are as much at risk as power plants and railway lines. Dozens of heath facilities across Ukraine, including maternity and children’s hospitals, have been struck since the beginning of the conflict.
When the sirens aren’t wailing, Kateryna said, there is another noise that is new to her neighborhood: the chattering of generators as homes and businesses try to compensate for being without electricity for as much as 12 hours a day.
“They are the jingle bells of this Christmas,” she said.
Despite the risk and the imminent arrival of the twins, Kateryna still travels into central Kyiv twice a week to use one of the co-working spaces that have popped up across the Ukrainian capital.
These spaces have become quite professional, with furniture, heat, lighting and reliable internet, provided through Starlink terminals, bought from the company owned by Elon Musk.
Kateryna works in logistics, helping to import large containers into Ukraine. It’s more than just a livelihood. It’s also a way to contribute to the war effort.
Kateryna and Oleg are luckier than most Ukrainians in that they have a small generator at home, but they use it sparingly. There is always the risk of running out of diesel to power it – it uses a liter of fuel every hour and needs to cool down every four hours. They have to choose which appliances to run: it’s lights or laundry, they said.
They fully expect to need it long after the twins are born.
Living in Kyiv during Russia’s war on Ukraine is about being prepared. Kateryna and Oleg have cupboards full of batteries, power banks and flashlights. If the Russian missile campaign against Ukrainian infrastructure continues, as most expect it will, the scheduled power outages may become less predictable, with more emergency cuts.
There is enough food in the stores “but sometimes I have to shop with a flashlight,” Kateryna says. They keep about two months’ worth of food supplies stacked in the house, just in case the situation goes from bad to worse.
Like many people from Kyiv, Kateryna and Oleg moved away from the capital to a safer area in western Ukraine when the invasion began last February. But they never wanted to leave the country. And soon they felt the pull of home pulling them back to the city.
“I have a job here; Oleg has a job here and he cannot work remotely. We have many friends here, our home. For me it’s a nightmare to move somewhere else,” Kateryna said.
Kateryna feels they are both involved in the effort to secure Ukraine’s future. In the early months of her pregnancy, she helped Ukrainian volunteer organizations with fundraising for warm clothes and equipment for the Ukrainian army, she said.
“The company my husband works for has a fund and they help the Ukrainian fighters who are on the front line with equipment like drones and pick-up trucks. We helped collect money for such equipment,” she said.
Like many other Ukrainians, they helped a family that had fled the frontlines earlier in the war. The mother had given birth in the midst of Russian shelling of their hometown of Kreminna in eastern Luhansk region. When the family settled in a Kyiv suburb, Oleg and Kateryna helped them out with warm clothes and food.
Kateryna says she is not afraid of becoming a wartime mother. She and Oleg want their sons to grow up in an environment that would be the polar opposite of what life would be under Russian occupation.
“I really want my children to live in a free Ukraine, I want them to be safe. They have the right to safety and protection just like all other children in the world. I don’t want them to live in fear of dying from a Russian rocket, they should be happy and carefree,” she said.
Her one concern – beyond giving birth to healthy children – is that she might find herself lying in the hospital amid another wave of missile attacks. At that point, she will pray very hard, she said.